Two years ago, I would never have written this post on Kevin Bieksa.
At least, if I did, it would have had a completely different angle and would most likely be titled, “Kevin Bieksa and His Contract Years: I TOLD YOU SO!” or something along those lines.
For years I was a firm believer that Bieksa was a contract year player, and as the Canucks entered the 2010/2011 season, I said to many friends, “Watch. Bieksa will play great, they’ll re-sign him, then he’ll slip back into mediocrity again.”
Some might say that I was right when I said that. But now I don’t want to be right.
I want to be wrong. In fact, I was wrong.
I understand how strange that sounds coming from a woman, and a Canucks fan on top of that, but it’s true.
Bieksa has grown on me, not only as a player, but as a person. Call it what you will, but for whatever reason, I am now rooting for KB3 to rise above the fan base’s pigeonholing and prove people wrong. Sound familiar, Luongo?
Maybe Bieksa does perform better in contract years; stats do prove that, but it’s not that simple, and I was ignorant and an idiot to ever think it was.
There’s a 13-page discussion on Canucks.com’s fan forum discussing this exact topic. Here’s a fan’s comment that basically sums up Bieksa’s critics:
“It was funny how everyone jumped on the Bieksa bandwagon last year just like they did back in 06/07. He was horrid in between those years and yet everyone seems to have forgotten that.”
To me, it seems that what people have forgotten isn’t how “horrid” Bieksa was; they’ve forgotten what happened to Bieksa during those years.
It’s all about circumstances.
After Bieksa’s first full year with the Canucks in 2006/2007, he won the best defenseman and unsung hero awards from the team. He was then rewarded with a 3-year contract extension in July 2007.
But following this extension, Bieksa would miss nearly half that season and finish a minus-11. This wasn’t because Bieksa felt secure with his new contract and decided to play badly; it was because he suffered his first calf laceration by a skate only a month into the season.
I would hardly consider these circumstances to be a result of laziness or a sense of security in a new contract.
For the next two seasons, Bieksa would see numerous injuries and another calf laceration in December 2009 that sidelined him for another 27 games.
His next year with the Canucks in 2010/2011 was another contract year, and we all remember how successful that was for Bieksa, and thus for the team. He finished the season with a mind-blowing plus-32 rating, only second to the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara that season. Bieksa also played noticeably smarter hockey, leaving behind him his days of constant turnovers at the blue line or stupid penalties that would cost the team.
Bieksa’s composure changed, and with it, so did his defensive game.
It was, after all, Bieksa who scored that double-overtime goal against San Jose that sent the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final. Although the Canucks lost to the Bruins, Bieksa ended his 25 playoff games with the most goals and ice time of Canucks defensemen, despite playing injured.
In the summer, Bieksa was rewarded again for his great performance with a 5-year contract extension at $23 million with a NTC.
Immediately there were rumblings from the fan base that Bieksa would slip back into his “comfort zone” after being extended, and would possibly have another mediocre season. Then the season started, and it would appear that those rumblings weren’t far off.
After 19 games, Bieksa has six points and is a minus-7, giving his critics a reason to smirk.
Two years ago, I would have been smirking with them, but things change and people grow up. These opinions of Bieksa that were once mine now frustrate me, and remind me how fickle and demanding some fans are.
Did people so soon forget what happened over the summer?
Perhaps a fan’s recent comment that rang true the most for me was this one:
“It’s too early to start breaking down and assessing things…just off to a slow start… More so, the hangover of playing in a 7 game SCF is evident…couple that with a rough summer emotionally, and I think some of the guys are still ‘tired’. They’ll get their jump again.”
Where to start.
Let’s start with the over-discussed Stanley Cup hangover, plus the short offseason combined with the tragic death of Bieksa’s friend and close companion Rick Rypien.
To be blunt, give him a damn break.
If you need to remind yourself how close those two were, or maybe you weren’t even aware of it to begin with, re-read Iain MacIntyre’s fabulous article on their relationship to remind you.
“I felt he was as much my responsibility as anybody’s,” Bieksa said. “Looking back now, I wished I’d talked to him a little more in the summer.”
That article brought many fans to tears.
So if you want to sit there and accuse Bieksa of playing poorly because he got a contract extension, you’re going to come off as a callous couch jockey. It’s easy to sit there and judge from your living room, pointing fingers and bringing up things like salary, isn’t it?
You know what’s not easy? Feeling the pressure to perform perfectly night after night under the microscope that is Vancouver, all while grieving the loss of the Cup, and the loss of a little brother.
In my opinion, which doesn’t mean much, he’s doing the best that he can, and considering it’s only November and how others are struggling on the team as well, that’s good enough for me.
It’s good enough because Bieksa is human. He has a big heart, he’s a great friend on and off the ice and he’s one hell of a hockey player.
I can wait.
So Bieksa, take all the time you need. I’m behind you.